A FANTASTIC second half comeback was just not enough as Saints were edged out 18-12 in the Carnegie Challenge Cup Semi Final.
Two tries in three minutes had Saints facing down a 16 point deficit but they rallied with a brace of their own to set up a grandstand finale.
But they had left themselves too much to do at the end and despite some heroics from the busted up James Graham and James Roby Wigan reached their first Wembley final in 13 years.
A tight first half saw Saints 6-2 down despite having the majority of ball, pressure and territory.
Repeat sets, three forced drop outs but only one Jamie Foster goal told the story of chances lost… before Wigan converted their only one through George Carmont after Josh Charnley’s break was felled by Paul Wellens.
In the second half, Saints had yet more pressure without a cutting edge and Wigan punished them as Charnley found space down the right.
Sam Tomkins added another seconds later but Saints hit back through Francis Meli’s mazy run which saw Foster go over in the corner.
Foster then grabbed his second as Leon Pryce and Paul Wellens cut the Wigan defence to shreds.
But the clock ran down on their final hopes and they couldn’t find the killer last play to see off their old rivals.
Team news centred on the return of Francis Meli and Sia Soliola after they missed last week’s game at Castleford through injury.
Tony Puletua moved into the front row – leaving Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook to come off the bench and provide impact.
Paul Clough also returned but there was no room for Kyle Eastmond who had a hamstring injury.
Wigan named a predicted side – the only surprise Gareth Hock being left out.
Jamie Foster got the match underway in a raucous atmosphere.
Both sides exchanged penalties and Saints could have opened the scoring only for Josh Charnley to intercept Francis Meli’s pass to Foster.
Saints then had three sets on Wigan’s line but couldn’t find a way through.
Meli and Foster then had another chance to combine but the ball went to ground.
Pat Richards missed a simple chance in front of goal to put Wigan two to the good on 15 minutes but Jamie Foster didn’t miss his opportunity five minutes later.
Saints had had the majority of ball and pressure but couldn’t make it pay.
And when Wigan scored from their own try line it underlined the fact they needed to take their chances.
A great kick had Sam Tomkins struggling just over his own try line – but Josh Charnley broke down the field only to be felled by a superb Paul Wellens tackle.
But the damage was done and as the ball came left through hands George Carmont cut inside Tom Makinson.
Richards with the conversion.
Half Time: Saints 2 Wigan 6
Saints began the second half on the front foot but Lomax’ cheeky break from James Roby’s pass wasn’t punished as it should have been.
And on only their second real chance of the game Wigan seemingly went further ahead.
They won an unexpected scrum even though they clearly knocked the ball forward and Sam Tomkins made it pay – showing all his strength to go over.
But the video referee ruled it out for an obstruction by Ryan Hoffman.
Saints almost hit back – but once again Wigan’s defence was too strong.
Josh Charnley was next in for Wigan – using a gap on Saints’ left to outpace the cover defence.
Sam Tomkins added Wigan’s third shortly after – thanks an appalling decision to give them head and feed at a scrum from the touch judge.
But with 15 minutes left, Saints gave themselves a lifeline when they ran it on the last and Francis Meli cut Wigan apart to send in Foster.
A couple of minutes later Saints forced a drop out and after a couple of thunderous drives Leon Pryce combined with Paul Wellens for Francis Meli to feed Foster once again.
A staggering turnaround…
Saints tried and toiled in the final stages to get over the line, but penalties went against them and they couldn’t get back into the Warriors’ territory.
A sad end to a pulsating match – but Saints did themselves and their fans proud.
Tries: Foster (2)
Goals: Foster (2 from 3)
Tries: Carmont, Charnley, Tomkins
Goals: Richards (3 from 5)
REF: Richard Silverwood
1. Paul Wellens; 28. Thomas Makinson, 3. Michael Shenton, 5. Francis Meli, 22. Jamie Foster; 6. Leon Pryce, 20. Jonny Lomax; 10. James Graham, 9. James Roby, 11. Tony Puletua, 13. Chris Flannery, 4. Sia Soliola, 12. Jon Wilkin.
Subs: 14. Scott Moore, 15. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 16. Paul Clough, 25. Lee Gaskell.
1. Sam Tomkins; 25. Josh Charnley, 12. Joel Tomkins, 4. George Carmont, 5. Pat Richards; 17. Brett Finch, 6. Paul Deacon; 15. Jeff Lima, 7. Thomas Leuluai, 10. Andy Coley, 11. Harrison Hansen, 16. Ryan Hoffman, 13. Sean O’Loughlin.
Subs: 9. Michael McIlorum, 21. Lee Mossop, 22. Liam Farrell, 35. Ben Cross.